In New York City last night, top elected officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined over 200 ‘carwasheros’ and their advocates to pledge support for their fight for economic justice and the right to unionize.
De Blasio spoke at the second annual Car Wash Workers Assembly at Guttman College in Manhattan along with Schneiderman, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Speaker Mark-Viverito, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum and Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez.
“The struggle of New York’s car wash workers to organize and improve conditions in their industry is an inspiration for all low wage workers in this city,” Appelbaum said. “The carwasheros are proving that when working people join together in collective action – regardless of immigration status – they can win. The RWDSU is proud to be part of this campaign.”
In the two years since the Wash NY campaign began with the support of New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York and the RWDSU, workers at eight car washes have voted to unionize and have won contracts at six locations. The three-year contracts include wage increases, job security, fair scheduling, protection of their tips, personal days and paid holiday bonuses for Christmas and New Year’s Day. Workers have been motivated to organize by unfair labor practices and bad working conditions, which have been found at car washes across the city, including below-minimum-wage pay and wage theft.
Last month, the campaign achieved another victory for workers with a $3.9 million settlement between Attorney General Schneiderman and car wash owner John Lage over unpaid wages underpayments of state unemployment and workers compensation on his workers’ behalf. $2.2 million will be divided amongst car wash workers whose wages were stolen.
“This victory is even bigger because it says in this city, in this state, that workers cannot be exploited, workers will not be exploited. We will not let it happen,” Mayor de Blasio said.
He cast the effort as part of his own agenda to combat inequality.
“This is part of a bigger fight,” he said. “This is the progressive city that we will built together, and it will be my honor to fight shoulder to shoulder with you – many, many victories ahead.”
“When car wash workers stand up for their rights, they need to know that state and city leaders will stand behind them. For two years, WASH NY has fought for workers whose rights have been threatened and wages underpaid. Today, standing together with New York’s leaders, I’m reiterating our support and sending a strong message that this campaign is far from over,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office will continue to fight to ensure that car washes clean up their acts to comply with the law and treat workers with the respect they deserve.”
The campaign has won successful strikes at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx, and Jomar and Off-Broadway car washes in Queens, saved the jobs of workers at the Soho Car Wash, secured six union contracts for workers, and brought about significant change in how workers are treated, even at carwashes the union hasn’t yet organized.
“We are here at our assembly today because united we are stronger,” said Ernesto Salazar, an El Salvador native who works at Webster Car Wash in the Bronx. “We are here with the most powerful people in New York City to ask them to continue to support us. And to show the bad bosses that we are not alone and we will win!”
Another worker, Miguel Portillo, who works at Jomar Car Wash in the Bronx, said: “This assembly is very important to us. We want all carwasheros in New York City to come together and join our fight. When we have every carwashero fighting, I know we can win. We can win more than we can imagine.”
Organizers also spoke about the Car Wash Accountability Act, which Speaker Mark-Viverito has introduced in the City Council. It would require licensing, transparency and best-practice standards. Car washes would face stiff penalties for fraud, misrepresentation or other violations. Charitable groups and others that conduct car washing to raise money would be exempt.
“I’m proud to stand with the members of Wash New York in supporting the rights of workers to organize, speak out and secure decent health care. These are not luxuries to be enjoyed by a few. They are the foundations of our democracy—and it’s time for the car wash industry to treat its workers with dignity and respect,” NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer said.
“I applaud these courageous ‘carwasheros’ who have been fighting for their rights,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “These ‘carwasheros,’ now members of RWDSU, understand the benefits of union organizing, and in standing together to collectively bargain for the wages and respect they deserve. The New York City labor movement remains committed to supporting these and all workers, as they organize to help secure good, middle class jobs for the working men and women of our city.”